The Jobs We Do

Bay Weekly’s Labor Day parade of working people

Americans are working people. We chanced on this land as explorers and claimed it as settlers. In the unbroken land of the new world, the explorers’ dreams of gold demanded pursuit as strenuous as the settlers’ ambition of a place to call their own. We’re still at it. Work brings us our livelihood, supports our families, endows our futures, defines our identities. The strength of the national economy is defined by the Gross Domestic Production — plus the unemployment rate, 6.2 percent last month nationwide, 5.8 percent in Maryland.
    Each Labor Day, Bay Weekly celebrates the work we do.
    This year’s question investigates the matches we make. Did your job find you — or did you find it? That’s the question our inquiring reporters asked. Each answer is a story in itself. Together, they illuminate the interplay of preparation and luck in the work we do.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin, Bay Weekly editor

Nick Beschen

Handyman, Arnold
    Life’s gotten better whenever I’ve been fired. My entry into small repairs came after I’d gotten custody of my three children, was fired and was waiting to see a doctor who, coincidentally, needed a handyman. First I did small tasks. In time, those became more complex, and I began to court more clients.
    Becoming the executive director of a nonprofit for which I had deep passion ended my work as a handyman. But I never quite got the art of working with a board, so again I was fired. I contacted my best customers and restarted the business. Ten years later, I am still growing the business. I get paid to have fun — and my services are valued. What could be better?

–Leigh Glenn

Dr. Lalita ­Chulamokha

Infectious diseases specialist, Calvert Memorial Hospital; Upper Marlboro
    Back home in Thailand, both my parents were doctors, and I chose to study medicine. Most medical specialties involve one organ. Infectious diseases affect the whole body, to me the most interesting.
    After medical school and internship in Thailand, I did my residency at St. Elizabeth Health Center, Ohio, then a fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia. I returned to work in Thailand, then to Michigan as an infectious disease specialist.
    In Philadelphia, I met my Venezuelan husband, a chemist. When he was transferred to Prince Frederick to work with a pharmaceuticals company, Calvert Memorial Hospital hired me.
    I treat several infectious diseases. One example: as in Thailand, in hot weather Maryland’s briny coastal waters harbor bacteria. Here it is Vibrio vulcanificus. If a swimmer or fisherman enters the water with open sores, the bacteria can cause sometimes fatal cellulitis or sepsis.

–Elisavietta Ritchie

Dr. Lee-Ann C. Hayek

Chief Mathematical Statistician and Senior Research Scientist, Smithsonian Institution; West River
    My favorite joke is that I wrote a letter saying I so wanted to work at the Smithsonian that I’d dust their elephants. However, I had my PhD in mathematical statistics. They’d never had a statistician before, but I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I work with all the Smithsonian research museums actually, but an awful lot of my research now is natural history and the arts because that’s what I like. I’m particularly interested in paleontology and biodiversity, and I do a lot of work with the veterinarians at the zoo. I have an office in Natural History now. When it was in the Arts and Industries Building, I’d walk in in the morning and somebody would be playing the grand piano. A nice way to go to work. I’ve been there 40 years. I love it.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Nate Jones

Accounts Manager, Lift Off Distribution; Annapolis
    I was working at a pharmacy, and I got to talking to one of the Red Bull delivery guys, and he told me what a good company it was, and that the pay was great. He kept bugging me every time he came in, so I finally applied and was hired.
    I get up at 3:30am, drive to Columbia, pick up my handheld, check the inventory in my truck and pull out to do my route. I deliver to about 45 grocery stores a week, 10 to 12 each day. I love this job; I love the freedom. Just over a year ago, I was homeless with a new baby and now I am in a nice apartment with my fiancée who also just got a good job. Back then, I didn’t think things were going to change, and now look where I am.

–Dotty Holcomb Doherty

Dan Kavanaugh

Actor, Crofton
    After serving over 20 years as an active duty officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, I decided to retire two years ago so that I could pursue my lifelong love of acting as a career without a competing day job. Not only do I enjoy the variety of film, stage, and voiceover work but also the variety within the day. In one day last month, I was a spokesperson on film in the morning, a surgeon on a stage in the afternoon, then a 19th century reporter on stage in the evening.

–Jane Elkin

John Lederer

Development architect, Volunteers of ­America; Fairhaven Cliffs and Arlington    
    I was recommended for this job by a boss who fired me. Working with this offshoot of the Salvation Army is so different from the dog-eat-dog world of commercial real estate. I make about half of what I used to, and I’m traveling all the time.
    Our mission is to help those in most need. We acquire, build and maintain affordable housing along with PACE centers for the elderly.
    I’m a troubleshooter. I have to handle weird problems. It’s always different. I work all across America, particularly troubled urban areas, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, so we’re part of that whole renaissance. Also rural areas: upstate New York, southern Louisiana and Puerto Rico.
    There are odd perks. I get met in the lobby of a senior development project by these 60-, 70- 80-year-old people and get a big hug, and they say thank you. It’s very rewarding.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Bonnie Morris

Tarot Card Reader and numerologist, Tarot Hill Consulting; Harwood
    This wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was like the kid in the movie The Sixth Sense. I could see people and have conversations with them. I thought everybody did this. At my 14th or 15th birthday, my mother gave me my first fortune telling deck.
    First I did charts for people as a hobby, then my spirit guides told me to quit my job and help people with my gift.
    I’m not always right and make no guarantees because people choose what to do. But I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I’m still amazed at what happens. I meet lots of interesting people from all walks of life and all backgrounds. It’s always fun.

–Marilyn Recknor

Wendy Rieger

News4 at 5 Anchor; Shady Side
    In a way I think we found each other. It was sitting right in front of me. I had just dropped out of college in my sophomore year of not knowing what I wanted to do. I was interested in acting and psychology, but neither really fulfilled me.
    I was looking for work in my hometown Norfolk, Virginia, when my friend mentioned a job at FM 99 as a weekend radio newscaster. I was more interested in the $100 a week than the job. It was either that or wait tables. I went in to audition; it was just like theater. My theater experience gave me my voice to do the news.
    Back then we were ripping and writing. I did not have any formal education on writing for broadcast news. When I went to ask my bosses how I could do this professionally, they said I needed to get a college degree in broadcast communication.
    I did, at American University’s School of Communication. Gathering information, telling it to people and learning different things excited me on so many levels.
    When I left for D.C. there was no turning back. Next came eight years in radio, then television.

–Madeline Hughes

John Stott, DVM, PhD

Horse doctor; Deale
    I could have been a great pipefitter, working for my father. But I knew I’d go crazy.
    I loved animals and wanted to be a scientist. My father sent me to farrier school, and that skill supported me through the University of Maryland, where I earned a master’s degree before continuing on to the University of Kentucky, earning my PhD in equine physiology. By then, I didn’t foresee a glowing future as a horse scientist, so I returned to the classroom to become a veterinarian.

–Diane Burt

Jeff Tarr

Butcher, Graul’s Market, Cape St. Claire; Pasadena
    I wanted to be a dentist. I was a chemistry major, making A’s and B’s. My professor said Dean’s List people were waiting to get into dental school. So I went into forensics, meanwhile working part time in a grocery store. The store offered me a journeyman’s test, so I took a break from college.
    I got laid off from Safeway, started at Pantry Pride, then heard Pantry Pride was going to lay off people.
    I was supposed to start training with the Baltimore Police when I saw an ad for Graul’s. I didn’t want to be laid off again, but Graul’s promised, “If we hire you we don’t lay you off.”
    I’ve been with Graul’s for 34 years. I know customers by name, see them grow up and bring in their kids. It’s a family.

–Marilyn Recknor

Bob Timberg

Unemployed (not retired) journalist; ­memorist; Annapolis
    I was a newspaper editor and reporter for more than 30 years, ­mostly in Washington. I wrote three well-received books, including John McCain’s biography. But I hadn’t given journalism the slightest thought until suddenly I was one.
    I’ve just published a book, Blue-Eyed Boy, about recovery and reclamation. It’s about more than the Vietnam War, though that’s where my journey began 13 days from the end of my tour.
    It was never clear for a long time that I was going to be able to move beyond letting a land mine define my life. But I did — with a little luck, some grit, some people who care for you and finding something that you love as much I love journalism.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Bruce Wahl

Town Mayor, NPR/PBS Senior Teckie; Chesapeake Beach
    At retirement age, I’m working harder than ever. I have four jobs.
    I’ve been an elected official for 26 years now. The citizens of the town of Chesapeake Beach chose me to be mayor. In conjunction with that ­strictly volunteer gig, I was elected by the other mayors across the state as president of the Maryland Municipal League — another unpaid job I actively campaigned for.
    It’s not that I seek work. I have a real desire to serve my fellow citizens. I feel I have a lot to offer, so I do.
    Work I actually get compensated for includes my day job in public radio where I’m a senior solutions architect. For the last year, I’ve also been part of the technical team for NPR and PBS, half-time at each, working on the next generation of interconnection of public radio and television programs that will have an impact for a decade or more. I didn’t make that job, but I’m having the time of my life.
    In terms of health, I’m doing ­pretty good now, five months since my cardiac arrest. I’ve been through a lot; I have an implanted defibrillator pacemaker now, and I know it works, since it’s saved my life three times. So I’m tickled that I’ve got it.

–Michelle Steel